It seemed that divine impulse was percolating throughout the entire des Cieux family. Pierre got up early and, getting dressed, skipped his usual breakfast and went off to early morning Mass at the Cathedral.
This was a rushed affair, with no music. It took only thirty-five minutes from start to finish. The sacred mysteries for the jet age, Pierre thought to himself as he left. His thoughts were stopped as the Bishop’s secretary was waiting for him before he could walk down the front steps of the Cathedral.
“The Bishop would like to see you before you go on to your office,” she said. “It won’t take long.”
“Very well,” he muttered. Pierre followed the secretary around the building to the Bishop’s office. He was ushered in; Santini was waiting for him as promised They sat down, Santini at his desk and Pierre in one of Santini’s less than comfortable armchairs. He could feel one of the springs attempting to break through the thin veneer of the worn upholstery and impinge on his derrière. He tried to compensate for the painful seating by burrowing his pipe in his tobacco pouch and lighting up, placing his straw hat on Santini’s desk.
“I didn’t expect you at Mass this morning,” Santini began. “This is a pleasant surprise.”
“I didn’t expect myself here either,” Pierre replied. “So to what do I owe the honour of an audience with you?”
“Your daughter,” Santini replied.
“She seems to be the topic of interest these days,” Pierre observed.
“Well, yes, indeed. I think I should inform you that, in order for a miracle to be considered legitimate in the eyes of the Church, it has to be fully confirmed to the greatest extent possible.”
Pierre thought for a minute, puffing his pipe directly at Santini. “I was unaware that Madeleine was being considered for canonisation as a saint, but I am flattered by the suggestion. I cannot think of another more worthy candidate I have personal knowledge of, present company included.”
“Oh, no,” Santini quickly replied. “That is not under consideration, at least while Madeleine is living. But, since she is a practising Catholic, people obviously connect whatever ‘supernatural’ events that surround her life with the Church. So we must take an interest in these things.”
“You could ask the doctor yourself, if you like,” Pierre replied. “Or better still, ask Carol Yedd, or her mother. I have never known Claudia to be happier in her entire life. In fact, she told me that she has gone to one of Avalon’s meetings, so perhaps the Church will gain a communicant who was raised in the Lodge.”
“Yes, I understand that also,” Santini replied with a tinge of regret in his voice. “But we live in the modern world, where belief in such things is held in wide disrepute. So we must be careful.”
“Careful about what?” Pierre asked. “Carol Yedd was blind. Now she sees. Her mother is thinking about becoming a Christian. Madeleine has not broadcast the event; in fact, you can barely get her to discuss the issue, especially in light of the way her school is taking the news. There is no doubt that this has taken place. The doctors have no idea as to why. The Church has believed in the reality of miracles from the start. Didn’t Arnauld and Nicole say that Protestant churches could not be from God because they did not believe in the miracles?”
“Arnauld and Nicole did not have a proper understanding of the teaching of the Church,” Santini said. “In any case, Gallicanism died with the Revolution. We must be obedient to Rome now, no matter what you might say.”
“And what does Rome say about Madeleine’s miracles?”
“This is not a matter of interest to them. It is my responsibility as Bishop to insure that proper Catholic doctrine and practice is exercised in this diocese.”
“And what might that be in this case?”
Santini paused before his response. “Madeleine must recant of the idea that what took place was miraculous. It is your responsibility as her father to help her make this decision. It is for her good and the good of the Church. Additionally, she should be cautioned about her association with her Baptist friend—given its depth, it may not be helpful for her Catholic faith. I understand she missed Mass the Sunday before last.”
Pierre was generally unflappable, but Santini could see the rising anger in him. Pierre looked away from Santini for what seemed to the Bishop to be an eternity. Finally Pierre rose from his seat, giving his posterior relief. He took his pipe in his hand.
“Bishop Santini, do you remember the story about the Holy Father and St. Dominic?”
“Of course,” Santini replied. “They were standing outside of St. Peter’s. The Holy Father told St. Dominic, ‘Peter can no longer say, silver and gold have we none.’ St. Dominic replied, ‘Neither can he say, rise up and walk.’ In case you have not noticed, we are not an wealthy church here on the Island, exceptions notwithstanding.”
“Precisely my point,” Pierre said. “If you continue with requests such as this—and I suspect they are the idea of your new patron—you will find yourself with the worst of both worlds. You will be able to say, ‘silver and gold have I none,’ and you will still not be able to say, ‘rise up and walk.’ I will not ask my daughter to recant of what all the world knows to be a fact. And, if you lose her to the Baptists, I will hold you personally responsible. Good day, Bishop.” He replaced his straw hat, put his pipe back in his mouth, turned and walked out of the office, leaving Santini in stunned silence to admire the smoke trail Pierre left behind.
Getting to the office made little improvement in Pierre’s day. First, the Ministry of Education called, demanding an appointment for Tuesday afternoon regarding Madeleine. This made a mess of Pierre’s scheduled swing through Collina and Aloxa, which Claudia dutifully worked on rescheduling.
Shortly after Pierre returned from his ritual lunch trip to the Mangrove, a small vehicle pulled into the warehouse. About a minute later Claudia went into Pierre’s office and bowed.
“I think we’ve got trouble in the warehouse,” she informed her boss. “Luke’s got some government official who wants to see you.”
“Once more,” Pierre said to himself. He got up and walked out to the warehouse. When he arrived a short, brown-haired official in a uniform he didn’t recognise was talking with Luke.
“Are you the Managing Director?” the woman asked.
“The same,” Pierre replied. “Pierre des Cieux.”
“I am Cynthia Drummond,” she replied, not bothering to shake Pierre’s hand. “I am Deputy Minister of the Environment for the Republic of Verecunda.” She flashed her credentials. “I have come to discuss with you your solid waste disposal problem.”
“Problem?” Pierre asked. “We have very little rubbish at this facility. We are only a warehouse. The municipal sanitation service comes and picks it up once a week, most of the time.”
“I’m not referring to that,” Drummond snapped. “I am referring to all of the scrap tyres that you have not disposed of.”
“If I have not lost my reason, in this legal system title for these tyres passes at the time they are loaded on the truck at our facility. They are no longer our property after that. It is the end user’s responsibility to dispose of these. Many times, they are used for other applications, as a visit to any port or marina on the Island will attest. That is where the few used tyres from this facility end up.”
“You are obviously not familiar with our new laws and regulations,” Drummond replied. “The tyres come from here; thus, it is your responsibility to insure that there is a method of disposal. Scrap tyres are a serious problem in all industrialised countries; they swell our landfills, it is difficult to shred them and environmentally unacceptable to burn them. So you must take care of the problem. Failure to do so will result in your company being seized, at which point the taxing authorities will have direct access to your records. We find it hard to believe that you are in full compliance with these regulations any more than ours, and, as you know, tax evasion is a criminal offence.”
“So what are we supposed to do about the problem of tyre disposal?” Pierre asked.
“I will return 0930 Monday. You must have a plan in place to collect all scrap tyres in the Republic and dispose of them properly, and a plan to prevent this problem from recurring in the future. If you fail to do so, we will begin proceedings against your company immediately.”
“Immediately, that is, if we do not have beau geste in the slash pines.”
Drummond was caught off guard by Pierre’s imagery of the French Foreign Legion. “I cannot believe that your government would act in this way. We know the French Republic to be a responsible member of the world community.”
“I am not worried about la République Française in that regard,” Pierre agreed.
“Then I will return,” Drummond said. “I hope you have a suitable response.” She started to walk back to her vehicle. Pierre looked over her vehicle very carefully, something Drummond noticed.
“What are you looking at, Mr. des Cieux?” she asked.
“Your tyres, Madame,” he said. “They have only two millimetres of tread. It is dangerous to ride. You could be hurt or killed in an accident, especially if it rains again. You should visit one of our stockists to remedy this problem”
“We could even do it here,” Luke noted.
“Your concern for my welfare is commendable,” Drummond replied, “but it doesn’t change anything, does it?” She got in the vehicle, closed the door, finally got it started, backed out, and left.
By this time all of the employees had gathered around Pierre watching her departure.
“What are we going to do, Boss?” Luke asked.
“It is time for the coded telex,” Pierre answered. He turned and first went straight for the office safe, the staff following, where he retrieved the code book.
“That thing is probably out of date,” Claudia noted.
“It is not a problem,” Pierre said. “The authorities here never faced this code, let alone the newer ones.” After that Pierre locked himself in his office, refusing phone calls and coffee alike. It seemed like an eternity, but he emerged with a neatly printed piece of paper with a short message in what looked to the untrained eye to be an unintelligible collection of all capital letters and numbers. They also noticed some smoke in the office; the lighter that usually kept his pipe going had been put to another, more pressing use.
“Type this on the telex machine very carefully,” Pierre said to Claudia. “Give me the draft telex and the original.” Claudia dutifully complied; it took her longer than usual to type the telex, but she typed the draft on the telex machine, pulling the roll up and tearing if off. She returned with both his draft and the typed one. Pierre compared them.
“It is as usual, perfect,” Pierre said. “Send it on.”
Claudia had the good sense to make a paper tape of the draft she had made. All she had to do is to reload the paper tape in the machine, dial the telex number of the company headquarters, receive and send answerbacks, and she was connected. She then started the paper tape, which tapped out the letters as she had typed them to start with both in Verecunda and France. At the end of the tape, she rang the bell three times, exchanged answerbacks again, and the message was sent.
“The bells were probably unnecessary,” Pierre said. “They have doubtless gone home by this time. But I am sure they will respond—that is, when they find the old code book.”
“I hope they do,” Luke said.
“So do I,” Pierre concurred. “I burned ours.”
The des Cieux home was in another one of those sombre moods that evening. Pierre was in his own world; now both of the women were at a loss to get him to communicate. Finally he mentioned in brief that he had sent an emergency telex back home to deal with an urgent problem presented by the Verecundan government.
“It is not the only communication we have had with the Verecundan government today,” Yveline admitted.
“Not now, Maman,” Madeleine protested.
“We must discuss this,” Yveline disagreed.
“What is this?” Pierre asked, putting his fork down and looking at his wife.
“Madeleine’s visa status has changed,” Yveline announced.
“How?” Pierre asked.
“I am only a student now,” Madeleine announced softly.
“You mean she is no longer a permanent resident of this place?” Pierre asked.
“Precisely,” Yveline answered. “The letter states she must leave within sixty days of the completion of her studies.” She began to sniffle. “It means that, unless you get transferred, I will have to leave each time I want to see my dear child.” She took her napkin and began to cry.
Pierre sat stunned, not as much by the government’s action—which he knew was completely in character—but by the way his wife took it. Madeleine for her part sat without showing emotion. He turned away from Yveline. “My dear daughter, there is something that I need to tell you but find it very difficult to do.”
“What is that, Papa?” she answered, puzzled. Yveline’s crying stopped; she sensed the special nature of the moment, and didn’t want to miss it.
“Today, after morning Mass, Bishop Santini called me back for a meeting in his office. It concerned you.”
“Me? Am I in trouble with the Church?”
“Maybe not the Church,” Pierre said. “Santini wants you to deny that you performed a miracle on Carol Yedd.”
Madeleine countenance turned to shock. “Why, Papa? How can I do this? Carol knows that it was a miracle, and her mother does too. The doctors have no answer. What other explanation is there?”
“There isn’t one,” Pierre confirmed. “That’s why I told him that you would not do it. Unless, of course, you yourself would change your mind.”
“She would have to deny that she prayed for the Marlowe girl to win as well,” Yveline said.
“Even Denise admits that was a miracle,” Madeleine said. “She just doesn’t know why.” She turned to her father. “But I cannot change what has happened. God has done these things. They are good. Why does everyone worry about this? What is wrong with me?” Her parents could tell that she was just about to go to pieces.
“There is nothing wrong with you, dearest Madeleine,” Pierre said. She stopped; when he used that expression “dearest,” she knew he was reaching to the bottom of his heart for his words.
“Our world would be much the poorer without you,” he continued, “but we have not always enriched yours.”
“How so?” she asked.
“We have literally taken you around the world. You have been shuffled from country to country, school to school. You have left friends behind—dear friends. You have done this without complaint. You have remained faithful to your church and your God through all of it. And, you have carried yourself with both elegance and chastity, something that is very difficult in this world, and especially here. We could not ask for a better child, and honestly I have never expressed my gratitude enough.” He stood up; Madeleine and Yveline followed suit, they could hear his voice quiver and see tears began to flow from his eyes. “I want you to know that I am proud of you, love you irrespective of the decisions you make, and believe that you, more than anyone else I know in fact or history, are Dieudonnée—a gift of God.”
He barely got out his speech when he broke down weeping, throwing his arms around Madeleine as she went to pieces and embraced him. Yveline followed suit and it was a long while before they separated and finished their meal.